Almost exactly 24 hours after the brutal attack and murder of Ashling Murphy, I found myself walking up the street to my house entirely alone.
The walk is one I have done every day for the last five months. I have walked it in the early hours of the morning, I have walked it late at night. I have walked it soberly, tipsy and drunkenly. I have walked it with friends, with neighbours, but most importantly, and most often, I have walked it alone.
The walk feels ingrained in me – a permanent fixture in my day-to-day meandering from college to work to home. I know the curves in the pavement, the dips in the road, the shop-fronts, cafe smells, the local eccentrics. I know when it’s best to cross, where I must wait, where Upper Rathmines ends and Lower Rathmines begins. It’s my home, it’s my neighbourhood, it’s where I should feel safest.
And with these bends in the road and friendly neighbourhood faces comes something else that feels all too familiar: fear.
From the moment my foot leaves the aisles of Dublin Bus and touches down in Rathmines village, I have begun to prepare myself for the walk. My headphones are removed. My keys readied in my hands. I have taken note of who else has gotten off at this stop. I have held back to avoid being followed. I have pre-empted – and in many cases carried out – a sporadic dash into my local supermarket should I be trailed. I have taken note of the hour, the daylight, the hustle, and bustle of the street.
I have been lucky enough to never experience the number of scenarios that I have pre-empted. I have not needed to brandish the keys I keep gripped in the palm of my hand
Despite unfortunate encounters with heavily intoxicated first years who spill out from Mother Reilly’s in the later hours of the evening, I have been lucky enough to never experience the number of scenarios that I have preempted. I have not needed to brandish the keys I keep gripped in the palm of my hand. I have not needed to cry for help. I have made it home safe time and time again.
So today, as I alighted and my boots made contact with the concrete pavement, I made way for home again. While this walk is never one I do with complete ease, the 4pm timestamp and dimming daylight typically grant me some consolation – a safety net of security for my six-minute journey.
Yesterday afternoon, this was not the case. Ashling Murphy was not saved by daylight, nor the time she chose to carry out her run, nor the busyness of her local walkway. She was not saved by everything she had been taught about protecting herself. She was not saved by her clothing choice, nor her familiarity with the area. She was not saved by her knowing of fear, of womanhood, of innate vigilance.
Ashling Murphy was my age. She grew up in a rural town like I did. She had gone to college, had friends, had hobbies. She, like every single one of us, had heard stories of these attacks on women.
And as Lower Rathmines ended and Upper Rathmines began, as I headed past my local supermarkets and favourite cafes, these were the thoughts that prevailed. It did not matter the hour, nor the daylight, nor the safety of a fellow woman in my midst. Ashling Murphy so tragically lost her life carrying out her daily routine. I am not safer because I have preempted this. I am not safer because I know these streets. I am not safer just because it has never happened to me.
Ashling Murphy so tragically lost her life carrying out her daily routine
With every attack, with every death, with every online debate and outrage, these violent ends to innocent women begin to inch closer. They burrow in the pit of your stomach, root themselves in the depths of your fears, imprint on the front of your brain. They feel inevitable, predictable. It is a lottery of bad luck – and if it doesn’t happen to you, it could happen to any of the women closest to you.
There is then the fear of outrage, of offending men and making them feel attacked or typecasted. There is the need to tread lightly, to choose your words carefully, to ensure that it is known that it is not all men. To minimise pain to avoid discomfort.
Walks home begin to feel like a game of chance. Taxi rides alone: a risk. Running in broad daylight: a possibility.
Ashling Murphy died doing something that every woman I know has done – being outside, alone, in broad daylight. By way of simply carrying out her daily routine, Ashling has become a beacon, a topic of debate and discussion. Her life will be examined, her last few minutes on this earth read about and remembered by men and women across the nation. She will not get to share how she felt or what she thought about in her final moments. She will have no say on the cacophony of voices that dissect her life and its end.
In writing this, I have tried to rationalise the likelihood of this happening to me or someone I love. I have scoured the internet for statistics on these kinds of attacks to distance myself from them. I have tried to remember all the walks home I have done, and all the times I have returned home safely.
But Ashling Murphy will not be granted such luxuries.
There is no consolation in this. This is a reality no woman wants to face – but with each unsettling stare, each fast-paced walk to the bus, each headline, the likelihood of it begins to feel less and less absurd. Your greatest fear could be here, at your front door, and this time there is no avoiding it.
This feels inherent, unfortunate, unavoidable. This feels all too familiar.